Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Left’s loss of Huffington Post should be a lesson
by Larry Geller
Mainstream news reporting in this country is heavily biased and limited by big money investors. The web has been the refuge of the counter-culture and socially conscious. Perhaps that’s why the sellout of the Huffington Post stings. The challenge now is not to lose the web to the same “market forces” that control opinion in most print media.
"Socialite Arianna Huffington built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists," a post at Adbusters begins. "She exploited our idealism and let us labor under the illusion that the Huffington Post was different, independent and leftist. Now she’s cashed in and three thousand indie bloggers find themselves working for a megacorp."
[RawStory, Adbusters: The left built Huffington, and we can tear it down too, 2/9/2011]
The Right has always been well-funded. Unlike most social service or even Left media projects that find only startup support and are expected to go it on their own thereafter, the Right pays to keep its institutions going perpetually. And as we have just seen, money talks, and can even buy into what the Left thought was safe territory.
An informal survey of 500 Huffington Post commenters conducted by The Daily Beast found that 81 percent opposed the acquisition while only 19 percent expressed some optimism about it.
"We made HuffPost and we are being abandoned," one commenter wrote. "They will aim for the center. That’s where the big money is."
Since the Huffington Post was Arianna’s to sell, it may just be gone. Unfortunately it was unique.
Control of the major media by conservatives is the rule, however. From cable companies (which let Fox News through but block Al Jazeera) through newspapers, advertising firms and lobbyists, big money speaks.
The challenge to Left media is huge. From the New York Times at the top of the heap to your daily paper at the bottom, editors and publishers are primarily conservative. .They are heavily subsidized in many cases. The Washington Post, for example, is subsidized by its Kaplan Education subsidiary, which accounts for 75 percent of the Washington Post Company’s profit. The newspaper itself is unprofitable. Rupert Murdock is subsidizing his Wall Street Journal in expanding its news coverage to compete with the New York Times, itself subsidized by the Sulzbergers.
Web sites are comparatively low cost and there are models that are self-supporting journalistic ventures aas well as those supported by philanthropy or someone’s deep pockets. The test will be to see if enough competition arises so that the loss off the Huffington Post turns out to be just an unpleasant lesson, a footnote in a growing history of successful web presence.
It takes big bucks to run a printing plant, though, so politically, the left may have to wRight off its access to the demographic that still prefers paper. At least until Kindle- or iPad-style newsreaders offer a choice of paper or plastic. The future of newspapers may be uncertain, but they remain, along with TV, the primary influencers of public opinion at present. Obviously, they’re subsidized for a reason, not as a public service.
Make no mistake, though, the New York Times on the web will be well-funded. The Right is moving strongly into what had been Left-field. When newspapers eventually fade, TV and the Internet will be the only ways to conduct political or class warfare. It’s already happening. Right wing blogs are very firmly established and vigorous. No ideology owns the web, at least as yet.
The conservative willingness to continually support its institutions while progressives provide only seed money will mean loss of ground on the Internet as well.
I hope the lesson will be learned. It will be interesting to see if the new AOL-Huffington Post survives the initial reaction and prospers, is transformed into a middle-of-the-road shadow of its former self, or withers away as readers and writers move elsewhere. It’s much too early to tell.
Anyone stupid enough to work for free for a wealthy publisher -- and Arianna Huffington was loaded, even before the sale -- deserves whatever happens. I'm a former newspaper professional. News jobs like mine, that paid an adequate living wage and benefits, are very quickly going extinct. That's happening, in large part, because fewer and fewer publishers see any reason to hire someone full time to produce words or pictures now that there are legions clamoring to do it for little or nothing.
Thousands of bloggers slaved for peanuts or less to help Huffington turn her web site into a gazillion-dollar asset, and in the end they all got screwed? Good! They deserve it. They helped send thousands like me to the unemployment office. What goes around comes around, baby. Have a nice day in hell.
The problems with the news media business is more complicated than bloggers working for free. The fact is there are fewer and fewer publishers to hire writers in the first place. Allowing newspapers and television stations to be bought up by large corporate media companies is at the root of the problem. Changes in the laws starting from the Reagan era has led to this monopolistic fever which has ruined many American industries. The solution is very complicated and encompasses restoring tax laws enforcing the Sherman Anti-trust act etc.